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Monday, November 5, 2012

Italian Families and Faith


Our son graduated from college last spring.
After college he moved back in with us and took an humble job, not wanting to go back to school yet (what do you do with a bachelor in philosophy?). You probably think it’s amazing that our son is still willing to spend time with his parents, but you have to consider the fact that we are a typical Italian family, so by definition we have a hard time letting go of each other. We moved to the United States when he was ten and he truly feels in his  element here. In Italy children generally live with their parents until they get married, because it’s really difficult to find a place to rent and college campuses don‘t even exist. Italy is beautiful, but also very expensive and crowded.

 I considered myself an emancipated woman until I came to America and watched the Italian-American family of “Everybody loves Raymond” on TV. Unfortunately, I must admit that there are aspects of my motherhood that resemble Raymond’s mum behavior: I can’t stay away from my son for too long and I’m constantly trying to feed him. In my defense, I can say that he’s as skinny as a mosquito.

 On a different level though, we are a very atypical family.  Our son often arrives home all worked up, ready to engage in very intense debates with the two of us. My husband teaches philosophy to college students, and our sun shares his interest in the subject. Of course they agree on almost nothing, and sometimes they get so animated that I worry the neighbors might get tired of listening to these loud Italian men yelling at each other in their native language. I wonder what they think those two are fighting about. Alcohol? School
grades ? They would never guess.

After they have exhausted their argument for the day, it’s my turn to argue with our son. He wants to talk about religion. Here in the States religion is a hot topic. Creationists against evolutionists, a diversified society of people of different beliefs, and many branches of Christianity. In Italy, instead, everybody is Catholic, not many go to church regularly and they keep quiet about faith. I wasn’t interested either until five years, when I suddenly fell in love with Jesus. By then my son was already listening to debates between famous contemporary atheists and their religious opponents on the Internet, and he thought that the atheists sounded a lot smarter.
“No wonder,” I told him. “It’s too easy to make fun of people because they can’t put on the table any scientific proof of their belief. It’s empirical evidence against mystical experience.”
“That’s exactly the point,” he said. “Religious people don’t have an argument. One can have the best day of his life feeling one with the universe and call this a mystical experience, but the conclusions one derives from it are a construction of the mind. You people are afraid! Afraid of the nothingness after death, or of the emptiness of your lives without faith!”
“Again, it’s very easy to attribute faith to psychological deficiencies,”  I answered. “Your understanding of reality is very limited. The world is a mysterious place. There are so many things that we can‘t explain, and it’s fascinating to investigate them, to wonder about them.”   
“It’s just a waste of time,” he said. “You can wonder as much as you want, but you’ll never know the answer. You can only speculate.”
 We had this conversation over and over and sometimes we got mad at each other, but it never lasted more than a second. One of us would immediately say: “I love you anyway!”,  which is our formula to get past our problems. 
I remember the only time when I stayed mad at him for a few days over some proclamation of teenager indisputable rights. It made me feel terrible.

Luckily the teen years are almost over. These debates about religion have helped us to learn to communicate again after a time when, because he was living “those years”, he didn’t have much to say to his mother.